2017, the year of...

By BeertownNZ Wed, 21 Dec 2016 National

A half-dozen predictions for the 2017 Beer Year

2017 will be the year of barrel-aged beers

No secret on this one – it seems like every craft brewery has a few barrels tucked away or is making room for some. Rum, whisky and bourbon barrels are all popular, but New Zealand is a winemaking nation and so wine barrels are easiest to find, especially for brewers in the regions. 

Barrel-aging programmes are slow starters, and next year we will taste the results of programmes that started this year and before. Expect to see a lot of barrel-aged limited releases at GABS and Beervana, and expect to see barrel-aged beers becoming a standard and expected part of many breweries’ ranges. This trend will stick, and a lot more beer will be sitting in barrels next Christmas, for drinking in 2018 and later.

 

2017 will be the year of B-Studio

B-Studio’s large new contract brewing facility will open in Napier next autumn, with the potential to produce 5 million litres per year – that’s about as much as Moa, Tuatara and Epic combined.

B-Studio’s wine industry backers have been constantly talking-up their initiative, and have approached many craft brewers over the year. Their stated plans include a 5000L German-built brew plant, state-of-the-art packaging lines, and a one-stop-shop covering everything from recipe development to exports. Key clients are understood to include Behemoth (currently contract brewing at three different breweries) and Garage Project (hemmed-in on a small site in Wellington’s Aro Valley). 

B-Studio has the potential to be a game-changer for craft brewing, just in its scale alone. It will offer brewers a tempting alternative to buying and installing more tanks, and bring new options for anyone considering joining the industry. The danger is that its brewer and equipment develop a ‘house-style’ and everyone’s beer ends up tasting alike.

 

2017 will be the year of Big Craft

Last year no craft brewer produced 2 million litres of beer. Next year three, maybe four, will break that barrier. Emerson’s, Harrington’s, Tuatara’s and Panhead’s expansion projects have come on stream, joining Moa in the Big Craft club. ParrotDog’s new site will be in full flow by the end of the year, with potential to expand further.

While some brewers will always work hard to protect their brand and premium position, I predict Big Craft will use size and influence to bring down prices – look for $16 six packs, $6.99 500mL bottles and $250 kegs this time next year.

 

2017 will be the year of the brewpub

Ok, it’s started already, with a handful of new brewpubs opening in 2016. The trend will continue – at least four new brewpubs are being built in Wellington’s small Te Aro district alone.

A brewpub is an obvious way for brewers to get their beer to drinkers. It shortcuts the crowded distribution and retail processes and converts those costs into increased profits. But, and there’s always a but, brewpubs have to cope with the dark art and science of hospitality management, which require completely different skills and experience to those needed to run a brewery. Operating as a partnership is one way to cover both industries. 

Another catch is brewpubs must choose between high labour cost/small scale operations selling only through the bar, or go for a more efficient scale and then sell through retail – somehow…

 

2017 will be the year of experiments in sales and distribution 

Retail shelf space is crowded and getting increasingly competitive. The alcohol department must cope with constant regulatory pressure and compete against other departments as well. The beer department must compete with wine, craft beer must compete with mainstream, and small craft brewers must compete with Big Craft.

Many craft brewers are finding other ways to move their beer to your glass. Online sales, either direct from brewery or from online craft beer specialists, will continue to grow. Kereru’s use of PledgeMe to take pre-orders on its gluten-free Auro was an elegant way to reduce risk and sell directly. Next year look out for buying clubs, subscription-only gypsy brewers, and other, newer, sales and distribution initiatives that no one has imagined yet.

 

2017 will not be the year for political support

New Zealand craft brewers have jealously watched tax breaks available for overseas colleagues and wished they had the same advantages. There will be attempts to start this conversation during election year, and they will fail to make it an election issue. 

National will show no interest in assisting small producers who might take market share from large established concerns. Labour’s working-class Christian supporters have a deep mistrust of alcohol in any form. And the craft beer vote is non-existent, because its drinkers are politically diverse with more immediate concerns like income security, house prices and education.

Beertown.NZ is taking a break and will be back with more beer and cider news in 2017. Thanks to everyone who enjoyed, sponsored, supported and shared Beertown.NZ this year. It’s been a year full of surprises and who knows what’s coming next.

Cheers!

Martin Craig

By BeertownNZ Wed, 21 Dec 2016 National